Handbaked challah sold for humanitarian effort
Originally Published 2009-10-16
By Robert Bellon
The Sodexo bakery, a bedraggled brick building in the parking lot of Physical Facilities, is oft-forgotten (if known at all). But inside is a bright bustling kitchen, where a small but industrious group of students meet twice a week to contribute to a common mission: make challah and make a difference.
Lauren Rothschild and Alexandra Kassimir oversee the operations of Binghamton University’s chapter of Challah for Hunger, a national non-profit organization that raises money for charitable causes in communities throughout the country and across the globe.
Rothschild, a senior human development major, and Kassimir, a junior psychobiology major, were involved in the group when it was first organized in the spring of this year.
“We just started on campus last semester,” Rothschild said. In their first semester of operation, they raised $2,000. They donated half their earnings to Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) and half to the American Jewish World Services Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund.
Now, the group sells their handmade challah on Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. from their table outside of the food court in the New University Union. But when hungry shoppers look into the plastic bags full of hand-kneaded bread, the product they see is only the quiet culmination of the work of dozens of volunteers.
“Probably the hardest part of starting was finding a place to bake the challah,” Rothschild said. She, Kassimir and others worked last semester with the founders of the Binghamton chapter —who have since graduated — and representatives of the national Challah for Hunger to establish a brand new baking operation.
Ultimately, they found their home in their very own corner of the Sodexo bakery. Sodexo provides the group with a place to bake the bread and all the necessary equipment, including two ovens for their exclusive use.
“The ovens are only ours to use,” said Rothschild — and they need to be.
“Everything we do is strictly kosher,” said junior accounting major Matt Block, the chapter’s accounts manager. A mashgiach, a supervisor of a kosher establishment, certifies that the challah is kosher, and keeping the ovens for challah only is a way of making that process easier.
The process begins in the Sodexo bakery. The dough is mixed in a hefty industrial mixer that looks more like a giant drill press than a baking instrument, and the dough churns in an elephantine metal bowl.
When the mixing is done, the volunteers heave the bowl onto the table and reach into the bowl for the dough. They then weigh, portion and knead the dough before braiding it by hand into loaves.
The loaves are left to rise in a walk-in refrigerator overnight. The next day, it is baked in the morning, packaged, and promptly brought to the New University Union. That way, Block said, the bread is baked the day of its sale.
Last week, the group baked about 60 loaves, and all were sold. Some weeks the students make 100 loaves and sell out in an hour, according to Arielle Kahn, a sophomore psychology major and the group’s sales manager.
The group makes and sells plain and chocolate chip challah, and this week they introduced a new whole wheat variety. They are also exploring more unconventional styles of bread, including blueberry, sun-dried tomato and chai.
Rothschild is thankful to Sodexo for letting the group use their facilities and equipment. “They just donated to us,” she said. “We order all our supplies and ingredients from them.”
She also commends the volunteers.
“We have a great volunteer group,” Rothschild said. The volunteers are so willing to do work, and so many sign up for shifts that “sometimes we have to just turn them away.”
“We find that it’s kind of cathartic for a lot of people,” Rothschild said. Not only does this apply to the volunteers, but also the homeless, hungry and disaster-stricken people in Binghamton and around the world who receive their donations.
Binghamton University Pipe Dream © 2009, All Rights Reserved.
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